Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whitburn Codex #1 - Little David Wilkins, "Whoever Turned You On (Forgot To Turn You Off)"

 During a Facebook back-and-forth concerned a totally different country singer on Whitburn, my brother mentioned this cat's name as someone he'd been digging on lately. I hadn't heard him, otherwise I'd have been all over a dude named "Little David". Perhaps I thought he was from the pre-honky tonk batch. In any event, I decided to give it a listen and this was the first tune I clicked on once iTunes got itself properly warmed up.

 The title was too tempting, as a song called "Whoever Turned You On (Forgot To Turn You Off)" is either going to be a fairly awesome slice of sleazy honky tonk or it's going to be an embarrassing mess. Either way, I've got a good insight to what lies ahead in Little David's oeuvre via my own particular scanner dark. There's remarkably little fat on the Codex, most of it coming from the folks I'm most familiar with (like Willie Nelson or George Jones) or didn't care for in the first place (Eddy Arnold). These more obscure hopefuls are pretty easy to suss out after a listen or two. I don't know if that's due to my finely tuned honky-tonk bullshit detector or an immutable fact of the universe. I might also be talking nonsense, so take that into consideration.

 Regardless, Little David did not disappoint. This is a pretty nifty little honky-tonk two-stepper, with an awesome hook and an extremely dirty mind. Thematically, it's from the same school George Strait's early hit "The Fireman"; to wit, a good ol' boy finds himself dealing with a woman that another man left in an excited state of sexual agitation. However, where Strait makes a practice of dealing with this problem as it springs up all over his geographical area, while Little David is concerned with only one woman.

 That George Strait song is pretty weird when one sets and studies on it. So, not only does this guy have to work in shifts sexually satisfying local women - women, lest we forget, left in a state of severe randiness by dudes that just walk off - he's so well-known in the area as a emergency gigolo the general public has given him a nickname. Where is this town? What has happened to the men in it? I've got a thought developing concerning this tune's relationship with the Men's Rights movement, but I don't want to go there right now. Anyhow.

 Little David's tune is a bit more straightforward. Where as George approaches his situation as a public service, Little David comes off as a hopeful suitor, someone ready, willing and able to step into the shoes of a man too foolish to know what a good thing he's got. Apparently, the guy isn't having sex with the lady being sought. Now, of course, we are all for choice here, and if a relationship chose to refrain from sexual relations for whatever reasons, that is certainly their right if all involved were cool with the idea. However, even if one person is even slightly uncool with it, there will eventually be friction. Someone's going to get pissed off, and I'm not saying that's a law of the universe, but I will say that I'm comfortable with the general assumption for argument's sake.

 Now. I'm assuming this happens. Who knows, maybe the sex-withholding third wheel had a religious conversion or perhaps his amour is directed elsewhere. The latter's always sad and good grist for the honky-tonk mill. It sucks for all concerned when one just doesn't want the other anymore and we should always say something and we never do. Anyhow.

 This is vintage early '70s honky tonk. That was a good era for honky tonk, I think, building on and expanding the original era's thematic focus: adult sexual relationships and the chaos they cause. And drinking. The '70s were quite open about cheating and hooking up in their country songs, and marriage as often as not was confused and disjointed. Again, a mark of the time, especially as it plays out through the eyes of the Southern/rural white American male (because, hey, let's be honest here). Not just the whole "sexual revolution" of the late '60s, either, though that's a big part of it. While it's far too complicated to get into here and one day I'll fish up a good link on feminism and that whole business, but not right now, men were forced to deal with the concept of women as sexual beings. More specifically, sexual beings other than merely receptacles. Women weren't passive like we thought they were, they have wants and needs and desires, as well. The change is that they're willing to peruse those wants, needs and desires, and what's more, they're not "bad" for doing it.

 Now. Of course, that's a gross over-simplification and we as a culture totally haven't got that squared out proper, but just humor me. Here's a woman - back to the song, sorry - here's a woman who wants to have sex, and not to put too fine a point on it, she is forevermore ready to go. Little David's the man on the scene, but he has more to bring: he'll never turn her on without turning her off. Smooth mother...

 Like I said, vintage '70s honky-tonk sleaze, clever and sexy and daintz-able. This sort of thing was right up Conway Twitty's alley around that time, and I could totally hear Gary Stewart doing a slightly more rocking version. While the early '70s were the beginning of the Billy Sherrill era, there was still plenty good honky tonk to be heard. This tune netted Little David one of his three Top 20, reaching 14 on the charts. It came off his self-titled debut for MCA, which hit 31 on the album charts in 1974. Little David recorded another record for MCA, 1976's King Of All The Taverns which hit 48. He showed up here and there on the charts for the next couple years, and then that's about that. He also recorded a song about butter beans, and that's just fantastic.

 He's a pro, though, and that's no lie. Plus, a neat story. A native of Parsons, TN, Little David - actually, a big dude but there's that there then - has been doing the rockabilly thing for the bulk of his adult life, and brought his act to Nashville to play what sounds to me like a proto-Urban Cowboy Mickey Gilley. Playing in and around night clubs in Nashville, Little David also wrote a number of songs that did pretty well for folks like Brenda Lee, Charley Pride, Billy "Crash" Craddock, and Stonewall Jackson, all of whom were chart heavies for the time. Owen Bradley signed him to MCA, he released the aforementioned record and small success was had. However, looking for the Hit, Little David sought out the talents of country songwriting hoss Jerry Chesnut, the guy who wrote this, figuring hey, what could it hurt.

 Inspired by Little David's on-stage persona, Chesnut wrote "T-R-O-U-B-L-E", which was awesome and recorded by Elvis Presley, which made it even more awesome. Little David never got to recorded it, consequently, though for the life of me I can't figure out why he couldn't record it. But what do I know. Anyhow, best I can tell Little David is still poking around out there doing his thing and I'd never heard of him until today. The illumination definitely made a so-far unpleasant week much less jagged. Take it easy, Little David, wherever you are.

Little David's Wikipedia entry
His homepage
The story about "T-R-O-U-B-L-E"

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